I see by the papers that our native trees have learned the amazing trick of leaving us for cooler climes.
The trees move by dying out on the overheated southern side and spreading northward and upward in elevation with new seedlings. It’s a painfully slow, virtually invisible migration (we once would have called this pace “glacial,” but that term rings differently these days). Some species may not make it.
But the trees’ slow march feels positively dizzying compared to our virtual hibernation when it comes to changing our laws or our personal behaviors to slow emissions. While there are in fact millions of people fighting climate change in thousands of ways — all to be celebrated — we in the U.S. have still been doing a lot of snoring.
There’s no doubt that the fossil fuel industry’s promotion of climate change denial, and the general human resistance to facing (now much worse than inconvenient) truths, account for much of the dismal lack of action in Congress.
But clearly much of the delay also stems from our political process, not just conflicting opinions. Bipartisanship — whose funeral I am personally tired of attending — had until recently completely left the building. (The reaction to the baseball-practice shooting has at least created some hope for its return). Real change requires further restoration of the political climate, which has featured heat waves of invective alternating with icy dismissals.
A hopeful sign: At least one climate change-fighting organization has put listening at the top of the agenda. The Citizens Climate Lobby, which I only recently discovered, believes there is common ground to be found between progressives and conservatives on climate, and that finding it begins with listening to those we generally dismiss and disparage and creating programs that integrate the values and concerns of all sides.
Another operating principle of this group is to keep it simple. Here’s simple:
1. Charge a $15 per ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions at the source (the well or mine or wherever the fuel is extracted) and increase it annually.
2. Take the resulting funds and distribute them as dividends directly to every household in the country.
Two things happen. First, the price of fossil-based energy goes up, discouraging consumption. People and companies make different decisions about LED bulbs, fuel-efficient cars and much more.
On the other hand, people have more money in their pockets (up to hundreds of dollars per month). They still have complete freedom to spend this either on buying the same amount of fossil fuels, or on whatever else they wish — Big Gulps or rent payments.
This approach aligns with conservative principles, as it is market-based rather than regulation-based. It involves no new bureaucracy or “nannying” (we already have both the collection and distribution infrastructure in existing agencies).
It aligns with liberal values, as it does not hurt the people who are least able to afford the increased costs. Under this policy, most of the poorest and many middle-class Americans receive more money in their pockets from the dividend than they would lose via higher fuel prices. This additional spending will also help stimulate the economy.
While the program has an immediate impact on consumption, it takes full effect over a longer period of time, in predictable steps, so both producers and consumers can make appropriate adjustments.
If you want to know more about how these and other surprising benefits of this approach work, check out the website at citizensclimatelobby.org. [The website also links to the group’s Asheville chapter.]
Time to begin. Like it or not, we are all members of the crew on spaceship Earth. Surely by putting one foot in front of the other, we can at least outpace our migrating trees — maybe even persuade them to stay here with us. What’s your first step? Are you faster than a tree?
— Daniel Mermin